Am I a Bruce Willis fan?
Yippee-kay-yay…well, you know the rest.
A quick spin through IMDB.com reveals that I’ve seen more than 40 of Willis’s movies at least once, and some – like Die Hard and Pulp Fiction – more times than the Nakatomi Tower has floors.
The recent news that the former Mr. Demi Moore is stepping away from acting after being diagnosed with aphasia got me thinking about his career, and the way he combined seemingly disparate elements into something memorable.
Yes, he played a lot of the same types of roles again and again. But when he didn’t, he delivered something unexpected and new.
Could his eclectic approach to his profession teach marketers a thing or two?
Does Hans Gruber wax his goatee?
Yes. The answer is yes.
Get out of your comfort zone. Who woulda thunk that a lightweight, eyebrow-arching TV star (known in the ‘80s primarily for his witty banter on Moonlighting) could have carried multi-million-dollar action flicks? Almost nobody. They even kept his smirking face off the original poster for Die Hard so people wouldn’t think it was a comedy. But he showed the naysayers. Combined, his movies have raked in more than $5 billion. Lesson for marketers: Try something new, even if they tell you it won’t work.
Surprise and delight. He chose his material well, maybe never more memorably than in The Sixth Sense, as the human personification of M. Night Shyamalan’s penchant for dramatic twists. If you still haven’t heard about it nearly 25 years after the movie came out, let me spoil it for you: Willis’s character was dead the whole time. His enigmatic performance is one of the things that kept the audience delightfully off balance. Lesson for marketers: Keep ‘em guessing, and don’t be afraid to zig instead of zag.
Always reinvent yourself. Throughout his acting career, Willis wore all sorts of other hats, too, from singer (we don’t talk about his first album, “The Return of Bruno”) to restaurateur (he was one of the original high-profile backers of Planet Hollywood, with its Cap’n Crunch-coated chicken fingers) to talk show host (he famously filled in for David Letterman on a rare sick day in 2003). Lesson for marketers: Pursue your passions alongside your day job; they’ll make you a better communicator.
Sure, not everything Willis did was gold; in 2021 alone he was in eight flicks – all of questionable quality. But you’ve got to give him credit for putting his steely bald head down and simply doing the work.
Come to think of it, that may be the most valuable lesson Willis has to offer marketers: When life gives you metaphorical floors covered with broken glass, roll up your sleeves (or your sleeveless T‑shirt), grit your teeth, take the first painful steps forward, and focus on saving the day.